NGOs urge strongest resolution on Timor at Human Rights Commission

Prime Minister Antonio Guterres
March 23, 2000

Your Excellency,
the Prime Minister of the Portuguese Republic, Antonio Guterres,

We are writing to urge you to use your government's current role as President of the European Union to achieve the strongest possible outcome in favor of justice and freedom for East Timor from the upcoming meeting of the United Nations Human Rights Commission in Geneva.

Indonesian President Wahid's promise to allow the safe return of the East Timorese in West Timor camps and to end military support for the militias will materialize only if compelling international measures are immediately adopted. These people taken hostage now face the danger that on March 31 Indonesia will deny them access to humanitarian assistance and will initiate their relocation within Indonesia. Given the prevalence of disease and malnutrition in the West Timor camps, this represents the danger of large-scale loss of life, in addition to the hundreds of people who have already succumbed in these camps.

We urge you to bring forth this most fundamental matter in Geneva, and to ensure that the outcome of the meeting will be forceful enough to resolve this matter urgently and once and for all. All East Timorese in West Timor and elsewhere in Indonesia must receive immediate humanitarian assistance and be given the chance to freely choose to return to Timor Lorosae. We ask you to ensure that all camps are quickly placed under direct UNHCR authority.An increase in UNHCR and IOM personnel is required. This increase is only short term but must be large to be effective. The Indonesian military must be compelled to stop providing weapons to the militia who harass and coerce their hostages in West Timor, and to block militia access to the camps. Indonesia must place militia leaders under arrest pending human rights trials.

The integrity of the Timor Lorosae territory is not yet secure. Several recent incursions have occurred of heavily armed and trained men from West Timor into Timor Lorosae, including killings and shooting at UN aircraft. Participation or collaboration by Indonesian military in cross-border attacks must be vehemently protested and stopped. We urge you to support Jose Ramos-Horta's recent calls for a European Union freeze of weapons sales to Indonesia. Additionally, the UN must be prepared to resolve the problem of securing the border if incursions continue. UNTAET officials have stated the impossibility of securing the border under current conditions.

We now come to the subject of accountability. Here we distinguish two different periods. First, the period covered by the mandates of the UN Commission of Inquiry and the Indonesian Human Rights Commission, that is, following President Habibie's January 1999 announcement that he would consider a popular consultation in East Timor. Second, the period from the 1975 Indonesian invasion until January 1999. Concerning the first period, both commissions have produced strong reports of their initial findings. Those people who in these reports are alleged responsible for systematic breaches of international humanitarian law (a category which may include genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes) must be brought to trial and receive appropriate sentences.

The investigation of the crimes in the first period starting 1975, during which an estimated one-third of the East Timorese population perished, including the gathering of evidence of systematic breaches of international humanitarian law, must be initiated by the UN. Crimes during this extensive period were of the gravest nature and cannot be forgotten to focus solely on the 1999 period.

These are necessary conditions to set the ground for democracy in Timor Lorosae as well as Indonesia, and to allow the possibility for normal relations between the two neighboring countries and between the pro-integration and pro-independence Timorese. Unless justice is served, we may expect that revenge will take its place for years to come, making peace and prosperity unlikely to succeed in Timor Lorosae. And unless justice is served, the entire population of Timor Lorosae will be denied the only possible relief available for the unimaginable trauma they have been collectively subjected to during 25 years of the worst kinds of abuses known to humankind.

The inquiry team of the Indonesian Human Rights Commission has produced a strong report of their initial findings concerning the crimes against humanity committed in East Timor that followed the 1999 UN referendum, and has our admiration and praise. The findings of both the Indonesian team and the UN Commission of Inquiry on East Timor deserve to be presented in a fair court, where appropriate sentences will be issued for those found guilty and where witnesses will feel safe to testify.

The establishment of an international tribunal for these crimes was proposed in September by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson, and suggested by three UN Special Rapporteurs in their December report. The UN Commission of Inquiry on East Timor (established by the UN Secretary general upon request of the UN Commission on Human Rights) also concluded in its January report that an international tribunal should be established.

The only conceivable possibility for avoiding an international tribunal would be if Indonesia succeeds in conducting fair trials within the country very soon. Given the evidence that the crimes committed in East Timor were commanded from the highest levels of the Indonesian military and government, that some of the accused remain in powerful positions today, and further, given the lack of independence and the corruption prevalent in the Indonesian judicial system, we have serious reservations that fair trials can be conducted in Indonesia.

Despite our reservations, the recently introduced new Indonesian Draft Law represents a very positive development -- in particular the establishment of Ad Hoc human rights courts to try past crimes -- that may allow for some hope to emerge for the possibility of fair Indonesian trials. The democratizing steps represented by the Draft Law and by the Indonesian Human Rights Commission conducting such valuable work taken seriously by the Indonesian government came about in response to international pressure for an international tribunal.

Mr. Prime Minister, we respectfully ask that Portugal take the lead in pushing the UN to prepare itself for an international tribunal for the crime of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes committed in East Timor since the Indonesian invasion in 1975. Trying the crimes committed in 1999 alone is not sufficient. Concerning 1999, the UN should be urged to implement the recommendations of its own Commission of Inquiry and, as a first step, establish an international investigation and prosecution body. Preparations for an international tribunal must continue. Delegation to Indonesian trials can only occur if Indonesia does succeed in establishing truly fair trials itself, while the responsibility for ensuring that justice for East Timor is served remains with the UN. The UN investigation of crimes -- including the gathering of testimonies and physical evidence -- must proceed and be extended back to the entire period following the 1975 Indonesian invasion.

The UN Secretary General should be asked to make public what criteria will be used to evaluate the Indonesian trials; in particular, what is meant by meeting "international standards," and the UN should offer technical assistance to these trials. Indonesian compliance with these international standards must be absolute and must be continually monitored by the UN. In particular, the pardoning of sentences such as the pre-announced pardon by President Wahid of General Wiranto, is unacceptable. President Wahid must be required to affirm the Indonesian government's commitment to implementing sentences issued on any person. The failure by Indonesia to absolutely comply with any one of these international standards should lead to promptly resuming an international trial under UN auspices.

With our Best Regards,

Australians for a Free East Timor (AFET) - Australia
Christians in Solidarity with East Timor (CSET) - Australia
Comissao para os Direitos do Povo Maubere (CDPM) - Portugal
East Timor Action Network / United States (ETAN/US) - U.S.
East Timor Human Rights Centre (ETHRC) - Australia/East Timor
East Timor International Support Centre (ETISC) - Australia
East Timor Ireland Solidarity Campaign (ETISC) - Ireland
Gesellschaft fuer Bedrohten Voelker, e.V. (GFBV) - Germany
International Platform of Jurists for East Timor (IPJET)
Norwegian Cooperation Council for East Timor and Indonesia (NOCETI) - Norway
Swedish East Timor Committee (SETC) - Sweden
TAPOL, the Indonesia Human Rights Campaign - Great Britain
VVV East Timor (VVVET) - The Netherlands